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Friday, March 04, 2005


Open Source, Anti-Capitalism, and Ramblings

I write this inside of Open Office, and I post through Firefox (reluctantly, would use Opera if it weren't for this damned WYSIWYG). Quality programs, to be sure. Not too user friendly, not heavy on aesthetics (Office especially), but they're cheaper than the alternative. Open Office is a free alternative to Microsoft Office, which can run you anywhere from $100 to $300. Firefox is a free web browser, and is directly competing with Internet Explorer (a “free” application after purchasing Microsoft Windows), and indirectly competes with Opera ($40, $20 for students).

Both of these open source (defined as “software distributed in source under licenses guaranteeing anybody rights to freely use, modify, and redistribute, the code”) programs are free and fairly reliable. I support the open source model, as I support volunteerism. But there is a movement underway, one that can potentially damage the integrity of the “open source model”. I describe it as the “Firefox effect”, where consumers will not consider a product unless it is free, even if quality and safety are involved. I attribute this to the anti-capitalist movement which has taken control over the Firefox movement. This new breed of anti-capitalist demands that websites not be ad supported, that profits made off of software and websites are inherently evil, as it threatens to control the public.

Unfortunately for these people, if we were to use the anti-capitalist movement's model, we'd be browsing their websites on Commodore 64s on 14kbs modems. The brilliance of Firefox is not that it is free, but that through Firefox 25 million people have demanded a change in Internet Explorer. In the past 6 years, Microsoft has updated Internet Explorer a total of 2 times. In the past nine months, Firefox has been updated twice. Opera leaves both in the dust, with a total of 5 updates in one year, including tens of previews, betas (and a major new release, 8.0 within the month).

Look at these three programs, each using a different model. You have MS Internet Explorer. As the leader in Internet browsing, and aided by the default installation on nearly every computer, it has had no motivation to change. IE easily maintains a 90% browsing share, although consumers complain about its reliability, as well as the hundreds of security holes (as documented by Secunia). According to Secunia, Internet Explorer has been subject to 79 security risks within the last 2 years, with 20 still unfixed. Firefox is an up and comer, which is slowly gaining on IE (holding anywhere from 4% to 6% of the browsing share). Relying on word of mouth and advertising in media outlets through donations, Firefox has the power to change Internet Explorer's “business” model, from being seldomly updated to more frequently. It offers secure browsing, free of charge, and I have to commend them for that. Only 3 out of 11 vulnerabilities documented over 9 months remain unpatched. Then there is Opera. A small Norwegian business, Opera lives and dies by its consumers and product reviews. Surviving without benefit of donors or attached to a Fortune 500 company, Opera must give its consumers security, reliability, and functionality relevant to browsing. 35 vulnerabilities have been documented within the last 2 years, with 2 remaining unpatched.

So we have a mega-corporation with a faulty and unreliable product, an organization with a reliable yet potentially hazardous product (through “extensions”, or third-party add ons to the product), and a small Norwegian company which is affected daily through market trends. Which would you, the consumer choose? Apparently, if you don't particularly care about how your computer runs, or are new to computing, you choose what is provided to you (obviously IE). If trends mean anything, if you are a starving college student who is concerned about security (don't want to lose your stored work), or are a vehement anti-capitalist, you use Firefox. And if you can afford it, and don't mind supporting an overseas company for providing a quality product, you use Opera. Is there any way to change how the public thinks about these three entities? Probably not, every niche has its product, and if you don't fit in, it seems you don't belong (if you're a nerd like me, that is). Hopefully, with the public awareness of browser options, all three groups will be diluted. Most people don't have a problem with Internet Explorer, and through more competition, Microsoft can provide a safer environment for the average user. The anti-capitalists which have the potential of running Firefox's parent, The Mozilla Foundation, into the ground, can be thwarted (and are in the process of being so) through consumer awareness and dilution. Opera will remain the same, acting as a small company among media giants. Remember, you have options when it comes to your computer.


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